Let's begin with a poem:
Old Black Men
by Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson
Old men; They have dreamed as young men dream of glory, love and power; they have hoped as youth will hope of life's sun-minted hour. They have seen as others saw their bubbles burst in air, they have learned to live it down as though they did not care.
In the 1960's a man, a Christian Minister, revealed for Black Americans the path of an Indian, Ghandi, had more power for change than the some total of all the speeches, riots, anger, and weeping which came before. Today, this man, Martin Luther King, is held high, but his path, his methods have been forgotten. At this juncture, I wish to speak about his path as a part of a greater path which I call The Sly Fox Approach to Racism of the Kings, Queens, and Warriors.
I am certain that many of us here has experienced racism of one form or another ... experienced it personally as directed towards ourselves and/or experienced it by directing it towards another. One cannot free others from racism, without freeing oneself from racism. One cannot free oneself from racism as long as one is glued to racism. By choosing non-violence in his protests, Martin Luther King made use of a fundamental law of change. Change in a system occurs only when a force outside of the system [in this case, non-violence] is applied to the entire system [in this case all of Black and White america]. Ghandi's outside influence on MLK was applied to all of MLK.
Let's take a look at the response to racism by Rudolph Reed, a man who moved is family in Texas. The story is memorialized by Gwendolyn Brooks, one of our great contemporary poets.
THE BALLAD OF RUDOLPH REED
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Rudolph Reed was oaken. His wife was oaken too. And his two good girls and his good little man Oakened as they grew. "I am not hungry for berries. I am not hungry for bread. But hungry, hungry for a house Where at night a man in bed "May never hear the plaster Stir as if in pain. May never hear the roaches Falling like fat rain. "Where never wife and children need Go blinking through the gloom. Where every room of many rooms Will be full of room. "Oh my home may have its east or west Or north or south behind it. All I know is I shall know it, And fight for it when I find it." The agent's steep and steady stare Corroded to a grin. Why you black old, tough old hell of a man, Move your family in! Nary a grin grinned Rudolph Reed, Nary a curse cursed he, But moved in his House. With his dark little wife, And his dark little children three. A neighbor would look, with a yawning eye That squeezed into a slit. But the Rudolph Reeds and children three Were too joyous to notice it. For they were not firm in a home of their own With windows everywhere And a beautiful banistered stair And a front yard for flowers and a back for grass? The first night, a rock, big as two fists. The second, a rock big as three. But nary a curse cursed Rudolph Reed. (Though oaken as man could be.) The third night, a silvery ring of glass. Patience arched to endure, But he looked, and lo! small Mabel's blood Was staining her gaze so pure. Then up did rise our Roodoplh Reed And pressed the hand of his wife, And went to the door with a thirty-four And a beastly butcher knife. He ran like mad a thing into the night. And the words in his mouth were stinking. By the time he had hurt his first white man He was no longer thinking. By the time he had hurt his fourth white man Rudolph Reed was dead. His neighbors gathered and kicked his corpse. "Nigger--" his neighbors said. Small Mabel whimpered all night long, For calling herself the cause. Her oak-eyed mother did no thing But change the bloody gauze.
What can be learned from Rudolph Reed's story? Here was a man who escaped from the frying pan of the ghetto into the fire of the White neighborhood. Surely he realized where he was taking his family to. If he had properly prepared himself, perhaps the outcome, for his family, mught have been different. Yes, Rudolph Reed, move your family their, but not in ignorance; not without wisdom.
Wisdom. Wisdom is a scientific and artistic approach to studying phenomena - racism in Reed's case. When experiencing racism, we would best study those who perpetrate it as well as ourselves. Surviving supposedly contradictory situations where supposedly "good" people commit racist acts, requires wisdom. The power of wisdon is like that of a very strong king, president or prime minister with first rate advisors.
Patience. Patience is an attitude that does not personalize the harm inflicted by others. Such harm is rarely personal. Patience protects you from harm infliced by anger. Patience shields you from being discouraged when others harm you; it is the armor protecting you from instances when your own anger would destroy the possibility of obtaining your goal. As Derek Walcott says (in a poem I've forgotten), "Why weep for dumb things"?
The primary effect of losing your temper is that you lose or even destroy the calm mind necessary for thinking, judgement, and solving problems. In addition, everyone around you will be effected by your bad atmosphere.
Two people may suffer from the same kind of racism, but due to their different attitudes and ways of looking at stuff, one person suffers more because he/she is not equipped with the attitude of patience. Here is an example:
In the mid-70's, I was a candidate for tenure at my university, two other blacks also were candidates for tenure. All three of us experienced overt racism and were rejected because of many illegal and/or irregular acts committed by our colleagues. We three met with a local very powerful Black politician to discuss a possible lawsuit.
One of the Black Assistant Professors sued the university, loss the court case, and was, by word of mouth, "blacklisted" and was unable to obtain another university position anywhere.
The other Assistant Professor did not sue, but vilified his colleagues publically. He received tenure the next year. However, he has worked until today in an atmosphere of hatred (his and theirs), where it is impossible for him to get more than minimal requests satisfied, and his research has been affected..
I did not sue, and I had compassion for my stupid colleagues, my calm attitude allowed me to continue doing mathematics. I received tenure the next year, and became Full Professor a few years later. Colleagues apologized for their activities. For three two year terms I have been elected to the Executive Committee of my department.
An experiment: Try the following if you can. Say you are ignored by a salesperson or hassled by the cops. Instead of losing your temper, feel thanks to them for giving you the strength to improve upon your patience, and to continue with what you have to do. [an aside on a personal level: patience also allows you to overcome the jealousy and resentment of the successes of others - the jealousy and resentment which prevents your own success.]
"Why weep for dumb things?" indeed. Why sit on your fanny complaining about this or that - difficulties in school or on the job, racism inflicted against you or your community? Work!
Work. Work is an attitude that delights in effort. If you have work, all your studies, all your efforts will have a successful result. If, on the other hand, you are seized by laziness you will lose. "What laziness?" you say. How about the postponement of what ever you have to do [one of my favorite missquotes is "Only put off today what you can put off tomorrow as well."]. Another laziness is the feeling that you can't do anything - what can you achieve with a lack of confidence?
Here's another poem:
We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
The Pool Players Seven at the Golden Shovel We real cool. We Left school. We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June. We Die soon.
Work is like a warrior's armor when you are making efforts for the community, shielding you from discouragement and depression when faced with hardship. When a warrior drops his shield, he immediately picks it up without hesitation.
Unnecessary talking (such as senseless gossip) and day dreaming about what you are going to do are both forms of laziness interfering with work. Work keeps a Queen, a Queen.
Two more forms of laziness interfering with your goals are the feeling that "no one else is doing their part" and "only I can do the job." In the former, your resentment interferes with the job. In the latter case, your pride does the interference. Feelings of resentment and pride also interfere with judgement and focus. When you have the attitude of work, you try to combat the opposing factors you hope to overcome AND you must keep yourself from having negative feelings and committing negative actions.
In summary, the Sly Fox Approach to Racism includes Wisdom, Patience, and Work. There are four more attitudes I have identified. They are Relaxation (includes Art and Poetry), Focus (or concentration), Humanity (not engaging in activies harmful to another), and Laughter (face adversity with humor - I just love jokes which don't come at the expense of others). Unfortunately, we need another time to discuss these.
We end this speech with another tribute to our ancesters.
Song for the Old Ones
by Maya Angelou
My Fathers sit on benches their flesh counts every plank the slats leave dents of darkness deep in their withered flanks. They nod like broken candles all waxed and burnt profound they say "It's understanding that makes the world go round." There in those pleated faces I see the auction block the chains and slavery's coffles the whip and lash and stock. My Fathers speak in voices that shred my fact and sound they say "It's our submission that makes the world go round." They used the finest cunning their naked wits and wiles the lowly Uncle Tomming and Aunt Jemima's smiles. They've laughed to shield their crying then shuffled through their dreams and stepped 'n' fetched a country to write the blues with screams. I understand their meaning it could and did derive from living on the edge of death They kept my race alive.
Note these lectures were first conceived and outlined for a 1995 lecture with the Wilmington NC community I gave at the University of North Carolina - Wilmington. The use of poetry was first conceived for the Keynote Address at the Black History Month Conference held in 1997 at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.